Penn State Denies Stanford Seventh National Title
Dec. 20, 2008
Omaha, Neb. - A 16-match Cardinal winning streak came to an end tonight in Omaha, Neb. as Penn State topped Stanford in the 2008 NCAA title match, 25-20, 26-24, 25-23.
The Cardinal (31-4) finishes as the runner-up for the third straight year. Penn State finished the year undefeated (38-0) and claimed its second straight title.
The Cardinal was led by sophomore Alix Klineman's 15 kills. In her final match in a Cardinal uniform three-time All-American Cynthia Barboza posted 11 kills and 15 digs. Fellow senior Foluke Akinradewo, a four-time All-American, had eight kills and six blocks in her final competition.
Akinradewo finished her career with the best hitting percentage ever recorded by an NCAA Division I player (.446), breaking the previous record (.423) set by Virag Domokos of George Mason in 1996 by more than 20 points. The Plantation, Fla. native finished with the second-best single-season hitting percentage in Pac-10 and school history (.457), coming in just under the record of .499 she set last season.
With six blocks in her final match, Akinradewo finished third in school history and ninth in Pac-10 history with 579 for her career. For the year, Akinradewo recorded 173 blocks, a total which also ranked among the school's single-season top 10.
Stanford's seniors wrapped up four of the most outstanding careers in school history, becoming the first class in school history and the third in NCAA history to lead its team to three title matches in a row. Akinradewo finished eighth in school history in kills (1,682), third in blocking (579) and first in hitting percentage (.446). Barboza finished ninth in kills (1,639), sixth in digs (1,241) and ninth in service aces (115). Defensive specialist Jessica Fishburn accumulated a final tally of 820 digs, while opposite Erin Waller completed her career with 670 kills and 207 blocks.
Cardinal libero Gabi Ailes put on another show for her hometown Omaha crowd with 16 digs, her 12th double-digit performance in the last 14 matches. Ailes, who nabbed her 1,000th career dig on Thursday night, finished with the third-best single-season dig total in school history (491).
Stanford head coach John Dunning coached in his ninth national title match, more than any coach in NCAA's 28-year history. Dunning has taken his team to the match six times in his eight years on The Farm.
Penn State was led by Megan Hodge, who recorded 16 kills on 44 swings (.318). AVCA National Player of the Year Nicole Fawcett posted 10 kills and 11 digs.
Akinradewo pounded a kill to give Stanford the opening momentum, and the Cardinal took advantage of Penn State overpasses to score five of the first six points. The teams were able to mostly side out from there, but Barboza slammed a kill at 12-7 to push Stanford a bit further ahead. The Cardinal used another Barboza kill to take its largest lead at 14-8, and at the media timeout Stanford was still ahead 15-10. Penn State surged out of the break, however, using three aces and three Cardinal hitting errors to storm off on a 10-2 run. The Nittany Lions tied the set at 16 with an ace, and took their first lead on a Stanford error at 18-17. By the end of the damaging run, Penn State was in front 20-17. The Cardinal struggled to come back and a 3-0 Penn State rally made it even harder. Christa Harmotto gave the Nittany Lions set point with a kill at 24-19 and a block by Megan Hodge finished it, 25-20. Stanford hit just .167 to Penn State's .257 in the set, with Barboza and Harmotto leading the way with five kills apiece.
Two more Penn State aces dug Stanford a 6-1 hole to start set two, but a block and a kill by Klineman pulled Stanford back within two at 7-5. A block by Akinradewo and Barboza narrowed the gap to one at 10-9 and, at 12-12, the pair blocked another ball to tie for the first time at 12. Cassidy Lichtman stuffed Harmotto to give Stanford a brief lead at 14-13, but back-to-back Nittany Lion kills swung the lead back in Penn State's favor 15-14. Stanford hung tough, tying twice more before the Nittany Lions used a block at 18-16 to push ahead. Blair Brown tipped a ball down that appeared to make it 21-19, but two scorebook discrepancies ensued, delaying the game for significant period of time. After a long discussion, four points were played before another discrepancy. The score was finally decided to be 23-22. The Nittany Lions took set point on the next play, but a Klineman kill and a Penn State error tied things at 24. Fawcett and Hodge pounded back-to-back kills to finish the job, 26-24. Stanford outhit Penn State .159 to .102. Fawcett, Barboza and Klineman each had five kills.
Penn State steadily climbed ahead in the third, building out a 7-4 lead on a Harmotto kill and 11-6 on another one by Brown. The Cardinal picked up two blocks to climbed back to 11-9 and were still within two when Okogbaa solo stuffed a ball at 16-14. The Nittany Lion lead wavered between two and three until Fawcett ripped a kill to make it 21-17. Down 23-18, Klineman drilled five kills in a six-point span to pull Stanford back in contention, 24-23. Fawcett knocked a kill off the Cardinal block to finish, however, 25-23.
Stanford finishes its season with a 31-4 record, its fourth 30-win season in the last five years. Stanford's Klineman and Barboza were both named to the 2008 Final Four All-Tournament Team.